Nigella Lawson, a British celebrity chef and author of several bestselling books, is known to many as a “domestic goddess.” Last week, the public discovered that Lawson is also a victim of domestic violence. Widely-circulated photos showed Lawson’s husband, Charles Saatchi, grabbing her by the throat during an argument at a London restaurant. In the pictures, Lawson looks distraught and fearful and is shown breaking down in tears. Lawson hasn’t filed charges against her husband, but it’s reported that she and her children have since left the family home.
Yesterday, Saatchi voluntarily accepted what is known as a “caution” or official warning from the London police about the incident - it’s unclear if they are going to pursue the matter any further. Publicly, however, Saatchi has denied any violence against his wife and claims that he and Lawson were involved in nothing more than a “playful tiff.” But the photos clearly document behavior that would be labeled as domestic violence here in the states.
What is Domestic Violence?
Several California family law statutes provide a good example of what typically constitutes domestic violence, and although domestic violence laws vary somewhat from state to state, they prohibit the same general categories of behavior.
In California, domestic violence is “abuse” or “threats of abuse” when the person being abused and the abuser are or have been in an intimate relationship (married or domestic partners, dating or used to date, live or lived together, have a child together, or are closely related by blood or marriage).
In California, “abuse” includes the following:
- physically hurting (or trying to hurt) someone intentionally or recklessly
- sexual assault
- making someone reasonably afraid that they or someone else are about to be seriously hurt
- harassing, stalking, threatening, or hitting someone
- disturbing someone’s peace, or
- destroying someone’s personal property.
It’s important to remember that physical abuse is not just hitting. Abuse can be kicking, shoving, pushing, choking, throwing things, scaring someone, or keeping someone from freely coming and going and can also include emotional, verbal or psychological abuse.
How Prevalent is Domestic Violence?
As Lawson’s situation makes clear, domestic violence crosses all social classes. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, and an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year. 85% of domestic violence victims are women.
Most victims of domestic violence never report the incident(s) of abuse to the police. Sadly, if it wasn’t for the paparazzi photographer that snapped the pictures, Saatchi’s abuse of Lawson probably would have remained a secret.
How to Get Help
Unfortunately, domestic violence is a common ground for divorce, and a divorce proceeding can escalate already present domestic abuse or be the catalyst for violence. Thus, many experienced family law attorneys are familiar with local domestic violence laws. If you have questions about filing a domestic violence case against your spouse or partner, you may want to contact a family law attorney for help.
If you can’t afford an attorney, check with your local bar association, as they may provide pro bono (free) legal representation for lower-income victims of domestic violence. Most states offer domestic violence services and many counties and cities have local shelters where victims can go for help.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline website contains useful information about victim services. Click on the “Get Help in Your Area” link under the “Get Help” tab to find resources and domestic violence services in your state. You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.
If you or your children are in immediate danger, you should call the police and get to a safe place.